As a child, I was obsessed with Christmas. I would try to figure out what my parents had gotten me by shaking presents or delicately tearing a piece of the wrapping. I would beg my mom to allow me to open one present on Christmas Eve. I could not wait until Christmas’ arrival. There would be new toys to play with or movies to watch. One Christmas, I wanted a Furby. Essentially, an ugly talking toy that resembled a gremlin. It was the “it” toy to have that year, and I got it. Another year, I wanted the movies “Save the Last Dance” and “Bring It On.” I received my requests. For me, Christmas was about what I was going to get. I had selfish motives, but I truly enjoyed the holiday. Yet, I believe most children enjoy it for this reason. Christmas turns into something else as a person matures.
As I grew older, I became a gift giver. Christmas became a mixture of stress, procrastination, and some joy. I would shop for presents during the week of Christmas. I would contend with busy stores and concerns about what to buy for people. I wanted family and friends to enjoy their presents and to find them useful. I also worried about money. How much could I spend on family members and friends? Who could I realistically buy a gift for? And would I buy them a “good” gift?
When my sister died in July 2013, I witnessed my small portion of positivity towards Christmas dissipate. I desired to run away from the holiday. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me about their anticipation of Christmas. With my sister’s birthday being a few days after Christmas, I couldn’t be enthusiastic. Grief overwhelmed me.
On December 6th 2013, my mom and I went to a Jeremy Camp concert in our hometown. I was originally supposed to go with a friend, but she was unable to attend. I did not feel my mom would be interested in seeing Jeremy Camp as she listened to more old-school gospel music. Yet, she went to the concert with me and enjoyed his music. We were both worn out and needed to be comforted from our grief. Since Jeremy Camp lost his first wife to cancer several years ago, we knew he had experienced the wretchedness of grief. Before he would sing, he usually read Bible verses and offered encouraging words. My mom and I sang along with him. We cried and praised God together. We embraced each other, knowing that we missed Wanda, but that God was with us.
This year, I wondered what my response to Christmas would be. Would I continue to be discouraged by the commercialism of Christmas? Would I hide from the reminders of Christmas because of my sister’s birthday? If I’m honest, I still believe that there is a societal pressure to buy the best presents and to go into debt. Despite some of stresses of Christmas shopping, I see how gift giving can be a display of gratitude between people. When two siblings or two friends exchange presents, they are experiencing each other’s thoughtfulness. And when sweet words are planted in a Christmas card, the recipient becomes joyful. Hence, there is significance in our tradition of gift giving; of thinking about the folks that we adore.
And even with my sister’s birthday hovering over this season, the Christmas story engulfed me. Being raised in a Christian home, I have always known why Christmas needed to be acknowledged. I’d heard about the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah. I’d read about the manger, the shepherds, and the wise men. In church, I sung the Christmas hymns with congregants. But this knowledge of the Christmas story did not exclude me from gaining new revelations. Of seeing how Mary and Elizabeth had received miracles. A virgin and an older, infertile woman would bear special infants. God would use them to allow the Savior and the forerunner to come into the world.
As God revealed the magnificence of the story to me, I shared what I had learned with my Sunday School students. I told them that Mary was a teenager when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus, the King. I watched their eyes widen as they processed that Mary was their age. Mary, a woman of God, willingly accepted the news that Gabriel brought her.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38
I chatted with the students about obedience and that God knows what best for us. I explained that it can feel scary and even wild to obey God, but that our willingness yields good things. Jesus’ presence enhances our lives.
In my life, I have been angered, grief-stricken and even excited by Christmas’ arrival. And I believe that it is normal to experience this assortment of feelings during the holiday season. Yet, I know that the re-telling of the Christmas story can exist amongst these emotions. I see that the story shows how human beings were redeemed.
“The world became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. “ John 1:14
Jesus, God in human form, was born in a manger. Hay and animals surrounded him.
Jesus, God in human form, grew into a man. John the Baptist baptized him. He chose disciples and performed miracles.
Jesus, God in human form, was betrayed and arrested. He was ridiculed and beaten.
Jesus, God in human form, carried the Cross and was crucified.
Jesus, God in human form, rose again and ascended to Heaven. He is coming back again.
The Christmas story is about God’s humility and love. And He was born to save us from our sins.